Friday, May 9, 2014

Through a Broken Window by L.F.Falconer

Delicious creep factor of ten!

I fell in love with Falconer's work while reading her fantasy novels.  In them, you get just a glimpse of the dark and twisted side that she has.  In this book, she's put together a collection of short stories that showcases this side.

Not only does she have a flair for the dark and strange, she has this wonderful irony.  At the end of nearly every story I felt this wonderfully odd sense of justice and elation.  Don't get me wrong, there was nothing happy happening in any of these stories, but she has a way of taking the bad guy and having him get his 'just desserts' in the most luscious ways.  And no one is exempt.  It doesn't matter if you're a six-year-old child or an undercover porn star.  

If you like to read twisted tales that are a little different, I can't suggest this book highly enough.  Falconer's work is always well written and she has characters that absolutely burst with life.  Even in these short stories, she's still able to pull off the captivating drama that I've come to know her so well for.

Come, take a peek if you dare.  You probably won't get nightmares, but these stories will stick with you long after you read them.  They'll also make you rethink your actions the next time you're thinking about  doing anything that could be slightly immoral or wrong.  Punishment is waiting just around the corner, and in the least suspected shadow of it.  

The Cow-Pie Chronicles by James Butler

Tim and his younger sister, Dana, live on a farm.  For those of you who have never visited a farm, you can't imagine the shenanigans Tim gets up to!  For those of you who know how the farm works, you'll find yourself reliving thrills such as 'cow surfing'.  Everything changes though as Tim learns that they'll have to sell the farm and move.

Growing up in rural Indiana, this is 'home fries' stuff to me.  My grandparents were farmers, although they never let me have the same sort of fun that Tim has.  Then again, Tim doesn't seem to get caught quite as quickly as I always did!  I had a blast sitting back and relaxing and reliving part of my childhood, while at the same time wondering why I'd never thought to try some of those things.

I  can't imagine any child reading this and not being absolutely captivated by Tim and Dana.  Their situation is pretty difficult with having so many changes in their childhood, and all at once, but they handle it in different ways.  It's fun to watch them joking back and forth and picking on each other, but when it comes to loyalty, they have each other's backs.

This book is good, wholesome fun.  It's appeal is definitely geared towards boys around the ten year age, but younger readers will be able to keep up as well.  Also, there are plenty of 'girl' situations so it's not really just for boys.  As an adult, I fully enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Turtle's Shell by Vincent Eke

Seriously, I just really like Vincent.  He just makes me smile.

Actually, not only do I like him, but I'm impressed with his thinking behind the children's book series he's working on.  It's African folklore.  In the book, all the children draw around the fire to listen to an important moral tale from one of the village elders.  As the children are drawn into the tale, so is the reader.

First, I love that this is a fresh look at children's storytelling.  Folklore is a lost art and I'm glad to see someone reviving it.  The book isn't dumbed down at all.  For very young readers, it's a great story to share with them.  For older readers, they can easily keep up with the words and the meaning behind them.

Another thing I love involves the illustrations.  The front is simply, yet beautifully decorated.  Inside, we find warmth and calm, color wise, but we also find plain old black and white pictures so that children can draw the tale to look the way they want it to.  I think this is pure genius.  It's multi-purpose story-telling at its best.

The Turtle's Shell is a tale about learning how to share and honesty.  All of the forest animals are going hungry and they realize the humans have food, so they set on a mission to forage some food from them.  The agreement is that they'll bring back whatever they find and share it with all the other animals.  Trouble ensues when the animals noticed that the turtle and his family are growing stout, while the rest of them continue to wither away.

I was a little concerned about what the level of violence would be, but Vincent handled it beautifully.  There are definite repercussions to the turtle's actions, and  violence is planned, but it turns out nicely.  I don't think it's enough to frighten small children, but definitely enough to make them stop and think about what being selfish could cause to happen.

At the end of the story, the children themselves tell you what they learned from the tale.  I found this entire story captivating and motivational.  I love the sense of morality and the ease with which the tale is told.  I love the sense of family and comeraderie that is built here.

Originally, Vincent had planned to do an entire book series with the same premise behind them, and I'm sincerely hoping that he'll continue on with that.  He has my vote and full support :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles in Cooking by Matthew W. Miller

Being the parent of a special needs child, I've grown a support system with others that have special needs people in their lives as well.  I've met the most amazing people.  My Sammy, is an amazing cook.  He started showing an interest in cooking when he was only four, and so every time he's been interested, we hop in the kitchen and throw something together.  Four years later, the kid can bake nearly anything.  He doesn't like to read recipes though.  He memorizes them and then puts everything together from memory.  Sam can talk anyone through how to make the perfect banana bread.

I've been lucky to have not many any parents that treat their special needs children like they're incapable of making a contribution to others.  Most of these special people I know have their own unique talents and those talents are cultivated.  Cooking actually seems to be one of the more popular talents.  I don't mean Hamburger Helper cooking.  I mean, shredding and measuring and sauteeing and presentation.

Matthew's cookbook is actually quite amazing.  There aren't any pictures on the pages of what the dish is 'supposed' to look like.  This means that the finished product looks exactly like it should and there won't be that sense of failure or confusion as to why the home-prepared dish looks different than that of the book.

The book is color-coded.  The pages of each section are a full color so that it's easy to find which section you're looking for and to know exactly where you are in the book without having to find an index.  The pages are bright and captivating colors, which actually makes it more exciting.

The recipes have tasty and fun names.  Most of them use simple ingredients but end up with a 'fancy' meal.  For example, Chicken Cacciatore.  I don't think most of us would dare give that a try.  It sounds daunting, right?  Nope!  I bet even I could do it with the recipe provided!  Maybe.  I'm sure Sam could though!

The outside binding of the book is a glossy laminate that will lean up easily without damaging the book, making it perfect for kitchen use.

At the end of the book is the most valuable information!  It gives you great insight into what a special needs person might be thinking and easier ways to teach them.  It gives references for other helpful tools as well as tips for helping a special needs person in the kitchen.  There are some beautiful pictures that you cannot look at without smiling.  There's a list of special needs abbreviations and their meanings for easy to find use.  There's a section on different cookbooks that some might find interesting. There's a wonderful section on cooking through television shows!

If you're a special needs person, or know one, this is a must-have.  I haven't seen a more comprehensive book for the special needs person to learn to cook, or to add recipes to their repertoire.  This book is pure genius and I applaud Matthew on an amazing job well done.  Thank you for creating something that will help strengthen the bond between my child and myself, as well as help him to be even more independent.

Letting Go by Belinda Tors

Margery Arturo has two children and an abusive husband Tony.  Finally, summoning her courage and her meager resources, she leaves her husband of twenty years while he is away on a business trip out of state.  With her teenage daughter, Lola, Margery manages to find an apartment and get a job at a women's shelter as a counselor.  Things are starting to look up.  But Tony continues to follow her wherever she goes and turns up at their daughter's school.  He makes threats and refuses to give her child support and monies he owes her in a divorce settlement.  Margery soon learns that leaving a violent husband has more risks than possibly getting beaten up or killed after she departs.  Will Margery be able to make it on her own?  (taken from the back of the book)

I will admit, I was incredibly interested to read this book because I wanted to blast it.  So many women give their version of an abusive relationship and it's completely one-sided.  It's not entertaining.  It's usually a whiny person wanting to bash someone else and turn themself into a martyr of some sort.  I was really expecting to pick up this book and hear a female version of 'I'm a victim!  Give me sympathy!'  I'm quite happy to admit that I was wrong.  This book is nothing like that.  I apologize sincerely, Belinda.

First, I did not like the main character at all.  Though it was easy to sympathize with her plight, she did become quite hard-hearted in places.  I'm not saying that it isn't understandable, but she went beyond the boundaries that I felt are acceptable.

Now that I have my admission of guilt and the bad stuff out of the way, let's move on!

I absolutely adored this book!  It really is a good story about one woman and her struggle for independence in a world that makes it difficult.  Our world, to be exact.  Our world is designed to be easier for married couples and more difficult for those who are trying to make it on their own.  Our world is designed for people to take the easy way out rather than putting in the hard work and sacrifice to make things work.  Our world is designed so that people can stay where they feel comfortable, instead of sticking their necks out and becoming better people.

The human condition is a tricky one.  Divorce is tricky.  There are always hurt feelings, especially when one person has been harmed.  Being able to push past that hurt to forgiveness in order to move on with your life is really difficult.  Getting to the point you realize that at least a smidgeon of the blame belongs to you as well, well that's life-altering.  Sitting back and watching Margery grow and learn was fascinating. I didn't always agree with her decisions, often I didn't.  I did, however, see where she was coming from and what her motivations and goals were.

If you're looking for a story that you can become involved in, this could be a great book for you.  It's easy to get sucked into and has a way of keeping you in Margery's world without making you feel all depressed and outraged.  Tors has a way of getting inside the psyche and sharing it without letting anyone know that she's psychoanalyzing them and laying them out for display, which, as a reader, is a blast for us!

Instead of being the whiny piece of man-trashing I was expecting, I found a well-proportioned character and life study.  I found intrigue and romance, friendship and family.  I found a nice visit with the skeletons being cleaned out of someone's closet.

Fascinomas by Clifton K. Meador,M.D.

To be clear, these are fascinating medical mysteries, the unusual.  This doesn't mean they're unsolved.  Although it's similar to the show House, it won't take you an hour to get through each story.  Also, these are short stories.  This isn't one long book.  Know what you're getting into and you'll find you'll enjoy yourself.  If you're long for one long medical mystery that is just waiting for you to solve it, you haven't found it here.

Each case has been shared and then compiled.  These are all true stories.  Each one offers a different type of insight.  Some will go into the personal feelings of the physician or how it affected them.  Others will go into more detail about a medical procedure or disease.

The wealth of knowledge here is actually stimulating.  The stories are short so that you can read as you want to.  Some of them, well I've seen them on television before so I wasn't surprised.  It was interesting to find that they were based on a factual story, however.  Some of them were so far 'out there' that I'm thankful I never have to worry about them happening to me.

If you are a fan of medical 'mysteries' and the unusual, this is the perfect book for you.  There are thirty-five different cases included.

The Sad Tree and Pronuba by Christina Steiner

The desert is a lonely place for Joshua, a tree who has never seen another tree like him.  He asks everyone in his environment to hep him find a companion...but although the desert loves him, nobody can help.  Things change for Joshua one beautiful spring night when a tiny moth comes to visit.  This exquisite story about the life-cycle relationship between the Joshua Tree and the Pronuba Moth will delight readers of all ages.  (taken from the back of the book)

I am terrified of moths.  It's the one animal that can have me cowering in a corner in fear.  Normally, I call my teenage son to come take care of them for me.  Actually, he normally comes running when he hears me scream because he knows it means a moth is nearby.  However, Pronuba wasn't frightening at all!  What a sweet little friend!  Of course, I'm perfectly  happy that Pronuba is not my friend, but what a great friend for Joshua!

This is such a great children's book.  Not only does it have lessons on the cycle of life, but it also teaches how to deal with loneliness.  Joshua learns that by helping another, he can take the focus off of what he himself is wanting.  That's such a valuable lesson at any age.

If you're looking for a book to read to your child, or an audience of children.  This is a great choice.  There are a few speaking parts where you can change your voice for fun, but the writing has a lyrical quality to it that just begs to be read out loud.

The pictures are calm and beautiful.  Everything is bathed in Mojave brown with reds and blues and greens to enhance it.  Instead of being eye-popping pictures that  will excite, these pictures perfectly portray the flow of the story.  It's sad and sweet at the same time.

Near the Hope by Jennifer Davis Carey

It is the sharp turn of the twentieth century, and Barbados is an island emptying out, as young men chase their fortunes on the Panama Canal or a merchant's vessel, and women seek the promise held in passage to the United States.  New York is an island swelling with hopeful arrivals keen to make their way on level soil.  In the thick of this rush is Dellie Standard, a young emigrant to the city eager to be freed from the cycle of the sugar cane crop and the colonial manor to craft a life of her own, one that is for more than just a piece of someone else's.

A promise made to her recently deceased mother compels Dellie to leave her beloved island, and with it the love of her life, Pendril Stoute.  Dellie eventually carves out her own life and livelihood in the city, with a business as a seamstress and a marriage of convenience to Owen Gibson, an American Pullman porter.  However, just as Dellie begins to secure a shaky foothold on her new land, a tragedy pushes her to near madness. (taken from the back of the book)

This book is Carey's debut novel, and as such, I'm impressed.  The characters are strong.  The storytelling is easy and compelling.  There's enough backdrop to the story to keep you interested even when things with the main character are going slowly.  Not only does it convey the world at the time through the Dellie's life, but you get a good glimpse of it without being bored with facts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dellie.  She's a strong heroine with her own beliefs and the strength to do whatever she has to do.  Most of the other women are similarly built, we just get a much more firm grasp of the inside of Dellie's head.  Most of the men are fascinating and have an exotic charm to them, while at the same time being yielding.

Though I've never been to Barbados, I feel now like I have been.  Carey has a way of leading your brain to create this wonderfully vivid place without having to give every detail.  The reading is smooth and keeps you sucked in. It's almost like you're a little cricket in Dellie's pocket, seeing the world through her eyes.

The timing of the story is actually quite fascinating.  Barbados is on the decline.  People are seeking to move to Panama and America or joining ships to set sail.  They all know that their futures must be found elsewhere.  Families are torn and lives are left in the lurch everywhere.  We get a good strong look at unions and working conditions as well as the society at the time.  America was becoming a hodgepodge of different colors and no matter the color, there was animosity against those that were different.

I had one issue.  Chupse.  I'm so sick of this word that I pray I never read or hear it again.  They chupse when they're surprised, happy, angry.  If it's a feeling, there's chupsing involved.  Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it can be heard from three rooms over, which fascinates me since I personally cannot chupse at all and cannot imagine a chupse that loud.  Perhaps chupsing was the thing of the time.  Maybe everyone really did chupse over every little thing.  I'm not sure.  I just know the chupsing annoyed the crap out of me.

This is a great character study as well as time period piece.  The most exciting part for me, personally, is that I was actually sucked into the romance.  So many times it's overdone and I find it a turnoff.  Here, Carey pulls it off with grace and style.  She has truly learned that in this area, less is more.

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All books (unless otherwise specified) belong to me already, have been borrowed, or are sent to me by the author, publisher or review company for review. I do not receive any monetary rewards for reviewing books. The opinions expressed in my reviews belong solely to me.